The current edition of the Fiske Guide to Colleges has named KU “one of the major universities strong in film and television.” Having been a doctoral student of the KU Film & Media Studies department I can confirm, by my own experience, that the Fiske Guide is right, we are strong.
For students seeking the best learning experience, our Film & Media Studies department has much to offer. In addition to state-of-the-art technology and production facilities, our department facilitates opportunities to stay current with the film and television industry by regularly bringing leading professionals as guest speakers. This semester, for example, Emmy Award-winning director and master editor Allan Holzman came to screen his latest films and to share his professional experience with KU students. Similarly, Warner Bros. and HBO script supervisor Peter Exline came to give an intensive screenwriting workshop at Oldfather Studios.
We are also strong, because our department has an active research and production faculty. This semester, for instance, Associate Professor John Tibbetts presented his most recent book Peter Weir: Interviews for the University of Mississippi Press. In addition, Dr. Tamara Falicov, our Department Chair, coordinated a scholarly panel at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies annual conference. Likewise, Associate Professor Robert Hurst initiated the production of his new documentary The Listeners. Similarly, Associate Professor and independent filmmaker Kevin Willmott won the Audience Award at the 4th Annual Show Me Justice Film Festival, with his film Destination Planet Negro, just a few days after the premiere of his newest film Jayhawkers. For us graduate students having such a dynamic faculty is a great source of inspiration for both our academic and professional career goals.
Thanks to various supports from our department, we, as students, are also able to be active outside the classroom. This semester, for example, some of our doctoral graduate students participated at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies annual conference in Seattle. Zachary Ingle chaired the panel “Warner Brothers: Industrial Contexts and Cultures” and Christina Hodel presented her paper “The Best of Both Worlds: Disney’s Ingenious Tween Marketing Ploys.” Another indication of our academic success within the department is illustrated through scholarly publications. For example David Sutera published his second book while a graduate student entitled Vaudeville on the Diamond: Minor League Baseball in Today’s Entertainment World. And Zachary Ingle recently published a volume in the Fan Phenomena series concerning the cult classic Coen Brothers film, The Big Lebowski.
Our department also supports students traveling beyond the University for challenging learning experiences. In February, for example, a group of FMS students traveled to Costa Rica in a study abroad trip. And during spring break, another group of FMS students traveled to Los Angeles for a Career Week in the milieu of the Hollywood film industry. Similarly, an outstanding undergraduate student, Jackie Gibbs, is now finishing a study abroad semester at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. Finally, during summer, I will participate in a study abroad trip to El Salvador with a combined group of students from my department and the Environmental Studies Program.
My participation on the trip to El Salvador will be the culmination of a long and fruitful experience at The University of Kansas. In addition to completing a Ph.D. program I was able to participate in several challenging and enriching activities. With substantial support from our department and other KU dependencies, such as the School of the Arts, the Graduate School, and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, I was able to conduct three field research trips to Central America for my dissertation research. Similarly, I attended four film festivals to which I was invited to participate, as a juror or a competing filmmaker. Also, with support from my department, I was able to make five short films, three of them winning awards at the 2012, 2013 and 2014 Tensie Awards, our annual student recognition ceremony. In 2011, I travelled to Costa Rica, as part of a KU faculty and students delegation to participate in a conference co-hosted by KU and the University of Costa Rica. As a result of that experience, I had my first scholarly paper published in an academic journal. As an indication of how our department combines academics and production experience, in 2012, I and my daughter had the chance to be part of the cast in Destination Planet Negro, a film produced in collaboration with Oldfather Studios and directed by our Associate Professor Kevin Willmott. The shooting of this film helped to enrich my filmmaking experience by placing myself on the other side of the camera – as an actor.
One of the most rewarding experiences I had in the Film & Media Studies Department was working as a GTA. Although I had worked as a teacher before in Honduras, serving as a GTA at KU reinforced and sharpened my teaching skills. I will not deny that it was hard work, but it was well worth the effort.
Yes, overall, it was a hard work. Completing the Ph.D. program in five years was difficult. It required focus and lots of effort. But, I have to say, anytime I needed it I had support from KU from the faculty, staff, and my fellow students. As many other students, in addition to generous financial support, I had academic support. Writing a dissertation in a language that is not my primary language, presented a very large problem or me. However, with a the kind and generous support of the KU Writing Center, the Graduate Writing Program, and the Film & Media Studies Intensive Graduate Writing Seminars, I was able to write complete my dissertation. Although they were also busy with their own studies and teaching responsibilities, my fellow classmates always were willing to help, in the most generous way. Finally, I had the support of wonderful teachers who guided me in making the experience of hard work the best tool for successfully completing our program.
I will never forget these years in KU. They will be a constant source of inspiration for my future career. As a scholar I will practice the principles of academic excellence that I learned at KU. As a filmmaker, I will create films honoring the respect for the arts that I learned at this university. As a citizen, I will make every effort to contribute towards a more just and peaceful society, the same way this university encourages all of its students to do. My daughter is here today, so I would like to add that as a father I will always be a Jayhawk role model for her.
Thanks KU. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!